Sep 14, 2018

Stepping Up to the Challenge

Alejandra works with Silvia on a new design.
Alejandra works with Silvia on a new design.

Over the course of the past year, we have realized that the development of our 2019 line, Kay Pacha, would be a year of change and growth for many of our artisans.

A few months ago, our team led a women’s empowerment workshop in Kelkanka; when we asked the artisans what they would like the theme of their next workshop to be, they unanimously requested: quality control. Since then, the women have demonstrated a strong interest in learning, and improving their textiles. They recognize that by developing this skill, it will act as a path that will lead them to receive more orders in the future. Not only is this path a priority for Kelkanka, but the Awac Puña cooperative in Patacancha has also been prioritizing the development of their technical skills.  

“We’re very proud of that because it shows that the workshops have proven to be effective; they’ve taken it upon themselves to gain business, and we’re able to continue building them up as professionals,” head designer, Alejandra Carrillo-Muñoz asserts of the women.

“During design workshops and empowerment workshops, we stress to the artisans to have pride in their craft, the importance of punctuality and responsibility; because at the end of the day, when we’re not here they need to continue working this way with other clients,” Alejandra details. Looking at the bigger picture, the artisans need to have these skills going forward, and we are thrilled to know that the women are eager to learn them.

Every summer we begin working on our new line of artisan made accessories for the year to come. Samples are woven, colors are selected, designs are adjusted, and over the course of the following months, we see it all come to life, from the creative vision of Alejandra in collaboration with our artisans, to handmade products ready to be shipped across the globe. We work hard to get all of our product samples complete in time for the annual photoshoots, and before Alejandra leaves us for the year. You could say, we don’t just trust these tasks with just anyone, we call on the professionals.

This year we worked closely with five of our nine cooperatives to help with sample work, one for spinning, two for knitting, and two for weaving. While our spinners and knitters are seasoned experts at this time-sensitive project, this was the first time that Wakanquilla and Awac Puña had been tasked with such an undertaking. For the past ten years, we have delegated weaving samples to our most well-trained weavers from the Songuillay cooperative, however, they recently found themselves busy with their own new clients, a milestone for which we are extremely proud. We’ve been partnered with the 22 women of the Wakanquilla cooperative in Kelkanka for ten years, while the 30 women in the Awac Puña cooperative have been working with us for just three. Despite the short duration of our partnership, however, the women of Awac Puña have proven just how ready they were for the challenge.

Up until this point, the artisans of Wakanquilla and Awac Puña have been responsible for weaving only their own designs for our store in Peru, while they undergo color theory and quality control workshops. Weaving new designs is always challenging, despite it being their first time, they were able to read the two dimensional designs provided to them by Alejandra and making it three dimensional all on their own.

In a recent visit up to the community, Mercedes Durand, Head of Women’s Cooperatives, along with Alejandra, were able to check in with the artisans regarding some of the tools we have  created to help the women execute the designs to their fullest abilities.

Most of these artisans have only ever designed from patterns that they keep in their heads, passed from generation to generation. It is difficult to imagine a transition to designs presented on a piece of paper. “While not an industry standard by any means, we’ve had to find our own set of tools specific to the communities with whom we work,” Alejandra explains, “‘cartulinas,’ that’s the name we gave them, and a concept we came up with. It is an aid for the artisans to be able to interpret two dimensional design.”

‘Cartulinas’ are customized cardboard tools that act as a specialized measuring device for their textiles. The artisans simply have to apply the cartulina to the textile they are weaving to ensure the spacing and alignment is up to quality control standards. “It’s kind of our way of helping them out and giving them a tool and a resource for them to interpret, the mix of contemporary design and traditional design.” Each design and individual product has its own cartulina to aid the artisan in charge of that textile, and while it is still a challenge, we know it has been tremendously useful for them to refine their newly learned skills.

“Orders for export come with a certain responsibility; we have to help them meet that responsibility by creating workshops that will support their understanding with what export is in general,” Alejandra explains, “we began that journey early in 2018 explaining what the international market is, what our role is, what role they serve within the organization; the follow-up to that was to get them weaving our initial samples.”

Wakanquilla has traditionally been a challenge for us to work with simply because of the distance from Ollantaytambo to Kelkanka. On a good day, the drive is at least three hours, and during the rainy season, the road may be blocked altogether. Therefore, training them to be ready for the demands of export quality production, though rewarding, has been a slow process.

The artisans of Wakanquilla have been working hard weaving textiles for the store in Peru, but they have not been ready for orders of export-quality textiles until this year. Mercedes has been an advocate of them, pushing our organization to invest more in their community and give them the same training opportunities as other cooperatives, despite the geographical challenges. Recently, we have  been able to include them in design workshops in order to guide them to start producing samples of export-quality standards.

“Awac Puña slowly started proving themselves last year,” Alejandra points out. Although at this time last year, they were not turning in samples for the start of the new design season, they were stepping in to fill some orders for export throughout the year. They have proven their work to be of consistently high quality and have maintained a professional outlook about the work they have been completing.

“Not only are their textiles clean and consistent and meticulous in their craft, but they turn them in on time and are reliable; they're very unified as group,” Alejandra eagerly remarks in relation to Awac Puña. “They’re very communicative amongst themselves. They help each other with samples, and it shows in the quality of their work.” We are excited to see them displaying leadership, strength, and potential for even more growth.

Kay Pacha, our 2019 line is on its way, and the women of Awac Puña and Wakanquilla have included many special touches on the pieces. Sampling, as part of the design process, inevitably leads to influences made by the artisans themselves. This year we are very excited to have incorporated ideas and traditional techniques that are unique to both of these cooperatives of exceptional artists. These never-before seen details are sure to make our new collection an exceptional one, one that would not have been possible without the dedication, determination, and development of each of our partner cooperatives.

Mercedes goes over designs with Cipriana.
Mercedes goes over designs with Cipriana.
Isadora practices using a cartulina.
Isadora practices using a cartulina.
A design intern helps Isadora with the cartulina.
A design intern helps Isadora with the cartulina.
Toribia reviews the next textile samples.
Toribia reviews the next textile samples.

Links:

Sep 13, 2018

Congratulations Songuillay!

Sabina, Genara, and Elena help welcome a tour.
Sabina, Genara, and Elena help welcome a tour.

Situated deep in the Sacred Valley, the community of Patacancha is home to a cooperative of 42 incredibly talented artisans. The Songuillay cooperative was formed well before Awamaki’s founding in 2009. Songuillay began working with Awamaki ever since one of our founders, Kennedy Leavens, had worked with them previously through a former organization in the valley. Since collaborating with Awamaki, the artisans have undergone trainings and capacity-building workshops in the hopes of one day operating as their own autonomous business. Their cooperative was the only one to work in both tourism and weaving. By 2010, Awamaki was bringing tourists up to visit Patacancha and buy textiles directly from the women of the community. Then in 2014, we officially launched our sustainable tourism program with the enthusiasm of their cooperative, while continuing to place orders for export with them.

With your support over these past nine years, Songuillay has received continual training and guidance as they gain skills such as color theory, quality control, customer service, and financial literacy. The women have completed construction on their very own Artisan Center, allowing them to host tourists during inclimate weather and hold cooperative-wide meetings in one central location. With their earned income, these 42 women care for a total of 128 children. With 110 of these children currently enrolled in school, their futures are bright.

“The next steps will be finishing up some final details on their tour presentation and activities offered,” Melissa Tola, our new sustainable tourism coordinator comments. We’ve been planning with them to prepare for their graduation since the beginning of 2018. With the departure of Juan Camilo, our sustainable tourism coordinator of the past two and a half years, and welcoming Melissa to her new role, the preparations have been delayed a bit. However, Melissa has been working hard to get to know the women and understand their mindsets for the future “in order to help them achieve their own goals.” Although communications can be a challenge because of the limited Quechua fluency within our staff, we are working hard to ensure that the women of Songuillay fully understand the details of their final trainings. Their understanding is more important now than ever, because after these final trainings they will be operating as a fully autonomous business.

While we are still going over final details like tour conduct, timing, and scheduling, we are encouraged by the recent success of the Songuillay cooperative. Over the past few months, the women have gained independent clients on their own. “The women were approached by several tourism agencies during the high season, and managed to make a deal by themselves, and were able to do so without any of our support,” Melissa points out. Gaining their own independent client signifies a lot to us here at Awamaki. Not only are the women clearly demonstrating new skills and abilities learned in the capacity building workshops, but they have also completed our Impact Model, and are now fully ready for graduation.

“We developed the Awamaki Impact Model as a way to encourage the women to make improvements in their businesses and to take initiative in their work,” Kennedy Leavens, founder and executive director, explains. “Our vision is that through our program, they will not only earn an income but also learn to run a successful business beyond our guidance.”

The women of Songuillay have surely proven themselves capable on that front. We will continue our relationship with the cooperative, working with them in specific tourism contexts, such as large student groups or multiple overnight tours. “We will become clients of theirs, and we will also act as advisors if they need any support with logistics for their tours,” Melissa adds.

One of the most important and exciting parts of graduating a cooperative is the opportunity to work with a new group of women from a new community that is seeking training and assistance to launch their own careers. Already, we have been approached by a new community eager to build a partnership and gain new skills that would allow them to better support their families. While we are not quite there yet, we see what the future could hold for these new women because of the inspiring example of Songuillay in Patacancha. Melissa is full of new ideas for improvements and growth, and we know the future of sustainable tourism is safe in her hands.

Cristina and Yolanda work together on a textile.
Cristina and Yolanda work together on a textile.
Margarita, Estefania, & Maria discuss a new style.
Margarita, Estefania, & Maria discuss a new style.

Links:

Jun 18, 2018

Atrapasuenos

Looking around our office, some people may have seen random materials destined for the trash-- small wooden hoops and scraps of yarn littered the room. However, our design intern, Emma Burzycki, found inspiration in the textile debris. With previous experience crafting dreamcatchers (atrapasueños), the idea sprung of turning them into keychains. As champions of resourcefulness and creativity, we loved this idea of repurposing the materials into something new and beautiful. The next step was to teach one of our cooperative’s how to make the product, then test run a small batch in the store to monitor sales and assess the success of the design.

We chose the Puka Rosas cooperative from Huilloc as the perfect group to explore this new product. Since making the dream catchers involves a different skill set from weaving, we were a little worried that the new design could be difficult to pick up. In reality, we shouldn’t have been apprehensive for even a moment: our artisans picked up the pattern in a matter of minutes. Our Head of Women’s Artisan Cooperatives, Mercedes Durand, believes that learning new skills help the women increase their confidence, and gets them excited with the idea of finding new ways of income that benefit their family and their community.

“Every pattern I use I have filed in my mind,” recounted Teresa, a member of our Puka Rosas knitting cooperative, “and any time I want to make a new pattern, I can figure it out from what I already know.” Many of our artisans start learning to weave as early as eight or nine years old. The knowledge of textiles becomes woven into every fiber of their being, and as they grow up, it grows and evolves with them. The deep familiarity with their craft becomes apparent the moment they pick up thread or needle; the object seems like a natural extension of their hand, and they maneuver it with the same fluidity as their own fingers.

We began the workshop by showing some basic sketches of the design. Then we got down into it, Emma sitting down with each individual artisan and demonstrating the process. The first women who learned the skill essentially became the point people for the project, and groups quickly formed around them. Artisans taught other artisans, everyone laughing through the early stumbles and helping each other to troubleshoot. The process in and of itself helped to empower the women to quickly become leaders and experts in a new area. When we asked Teresa about broadening her horizons, she said, “I love learning new designs. Adding to my arsenal of designs keeps the work with Awamaki more exciting.”

Soon the entire cooperative was intently at work, applying the same concentration and expertise that it takes to weave an entire blanket to the little wooden hoops and yarn. Watching them work, and feeling the focus nearly palpable in the air, I finally understood the phrase “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This kind of work and the sense of community it creates seemed to be as much a part of the artisans as their smiles. As the day came to an end, the women started racing to finish their second or even third dream catcher, making sure that their work was complete.  

Just a short while later, we left Huilloc with colorful dream catchers and a feeling of fulfillment at the success of the workshop. The dream catchers are now for sale in the store in Peru, and we will hopefully be making our first major order to Puka Rosas in the near future!

 
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